In the last week, I have cried numerous times. I cry when I’m sad or scared, but also when I’m delighted and awed. I cried when I finished a book, my heart rendering at the thought of leaving those characters. I cried as I watched news footage of Hurricane Laura battering the Louisiana coast. I was left in tears by two different sunrises and one unusually gorgeous butterfly. I wept listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, thinking about Jacob Blake, reading an especially vitriolic social media response.
And if you only know me from my writing, this is no surprise to you. I like to think that I cry a lot because I am paying attention. One of my spiritual practices is trying to notice and stay present to it all: the beautiful and the brutal, the magical and mundane in equal measure.
But if you have met me in person, then you know the exact opposite is even more true. If I cry a lot, I laugh twice as much.
I am an avid, enthusiastic laugher. I have a loud, open mouth, often snorty, deep in my belly, unapologetic laugh. It’s the flip side of the spiritual practice.
Life is hard. Too many people are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, resulting in conscious or unconscious numbing out. We drown our fears and frazzle in food, sex, alcohol. We dive deep into a scroll hole or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Unfortunately, when we numb the dark, we numb the light too. When we choose to sit with it all, push nothing away, we are forced to feel those low lows, but we’re rewarded with higher highs.
I have a favorite toddler named Stella. In Stella’s world, everything is hilarious; her imagination is defaulted to humor and optimism. What’s funny to Stella includes – but is not limited to – bugs, boogers, cherry tomatoes, toenails, and puppies. She’s not alone. The average 4 year-old laughs more than 300 times a day.
In stark contrast, the average adult laughs only 10 to 20 times a day. We’re laugh-deprived and it’s no joke.
Laughter, we think, predates human speech. It arose as a form of social bonding, a non-language form of communication and connection. We’re drawn towards people whose default is smile and laugh and repulsed by those who grump and grouse. And laughter is certainly contagious. Mirror neurons – neurons that fire when we perform an action and also when we observe that same action performed by others – are involved in laughter. That’s why sitcoms have soundtracks. We hear laughing and it prompts us to join in.
We are still unsure what part of the brain is responsible for healthy laughter, although studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in the flexible thinking required to “get” jokes. (Healthy laughter is when we are laughing with people and not at them.). We do know that frequent, healthy laughter strengthens the immune system, improves depression and anxiety, boosts oxygen consumption, promotes blood flow, burns calories, releases muscle tension, and relieves pain. Over time, it helps us cultivate curiosity, resilience, empathy, and hope.
Having a hard time seeing the humor in our current reality? Fake it til’ you make it. Instead of reading or watching the news tonight, why not choose to fill your mind with something more lighthearted? What’s funny to you is certainly as unique as your DNA, but here’s a list of my favorite funny go-tos to get you started (caveat: sarcasm is my love language and I’m not bothered by the occasional F-bomb, so research before you dive in).
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson
I Was Told There Would Be Cake: Essays by Sloane Crosby
Parks and Recreation (Every single line uttered by Ron Swanson. Every. Single. One.)
The Goldbergs (come for the awesome 80’s soundtrack, stay for the amazing pop references. Also, Murray Goldberg.)
Schitt’s Creek (Ewww, David.)
This Is Spinal Tap (These go to 11.)
Trading Places (You want me to break something else?)
Bridesmaids (Female Fight Club. We Grease Up, We Pull In.)
The Hangover (This isn’t the real Caesar’s Palace, is it?)
The Jerk (He hates these cans!)
Raising Arizona (Mind you don’t cut yourself Mordecai!)
School of Rock (Would you tell Picasso to sell his guitars?)
Anything starring Amy Poehler, Tiffany Haddish, or Will Ferrell